“What is the capital of Vermont?” Blank stares across the entire classroom. Not one of the 28 hands shoot up. I think to myself, “Okay, I will try an easier one.”
“What state has the capital city of Columbia?” A student’s hand shoots up. “Yes!” I think to myself. “A student knows this!” The student answers, “Washington, D.C.”
As I look at this fifth grade student, and the rest of the class, I realize that these children have not had any instruction in the teaching of US states and the capitals. This is not uncommon across the United States today.
Looking at my child’s school, I realized that my son was not going to learn about the 50 states and capitals while studying the regions of the United States while in fourth grade.
I also knew that the states and capitals are not taught in 5th grade either since the theme was Early America to the Civil War. So from my child’s elementary experience, kindergarten through grade 5, the learning of the states and capitals was missing.
It made me think of watching “Jaywalking” on Jay Leno. Jay would interview people on the street and sometimes ask them geography questions. It made me wonder, is it like this nation-wide? Has the teaching of the 50 states and capitals disappeared?
In asking social studies teachers across the United States on Facebook, my findings were similar. Social Studies teachers from parts of Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas and Kentucky did not think it was part of their curriculum in any grades. Other teachers commented that it wasn’t taught until seventh or ninth grade, if it was taught at all!
As an educator, this concerned me. So this year I will be teaching these concepts to my fifth grade students. Here are my top 5 tips on how to teach your children, or students if you are a teacher, the 50 states and capitals.
1. Practice with blank maps
Probably the best way to practice is to have a few blank outline maps of the 50 United States available. This way the child could label on his/her own the states on one, and the capitals on the other. For the first time, allow the child to use a textbook or website that has the correct locations for both. Give the child a chance to study the maps after completing them.But the next time, give the child blank maps and see how many s/he can get correct. Repeat a few times if the child does not get frustrated. We have included blank maps in our resource that we will talk about in #5.
2. Play Games
It seems that children can learn difficult concepts more easily through games. Here are a few ideas. If you are playing a normal board game that involves dice or spinning to move forward, there is a way to incorporate states and capitals. Make two stacks of cards to choose from, one with state names and one with capitals. Whenever a child lands on a place on the board that requires a card, s/he would pick either a state or capital card and have to name the opposite. For example, if “Madison” was chosen as a card, the answer would be “Wisconsin.”
Another fun game that we developed is like Jeopardy. There are five categories to choose from, and you could have your child compete against a friend or family member, or just give a time limit. The child would pick a category and money amount and a map would appear. The child would have to answer the location correctly to receive the money amount. See how much money the child can accumulate by the end of the game. Directions are included with the game! You can find this resource to purchase by clicking here.
3. Listen to songs
Another great way to remember the names of the states and capitals is through music. One of our favorite’s is “Wakko’s America” peformed by the Animaniacs. It is entertaining and holds students’ attention.
Another great song is “Tour the States” by Marbles the Brain Store. It is not only visually appealing with a man drawing out the map, labeling the states and capitals, but also drawing an identifying symbol for each state. For example, a peach is drawn for Georgia.
A final tune is the “States and Capitals Song” by Michael Stew. This has a different approach than the above mentioned songs. Each individual state travels down a conveyor belt and is shot through a cannon onto a map as the state and capital are named. It is kind of comical as well, so students would catch on to it.
4. Make flash cards
Take 50 index cards and a sharpie or pen. On one side of the card write the name of the state. On the other side of the card write the name of the capital from that same state. Do this for all 50 states. Then, mix the cards up and have the child go through the deck and name either the state or capital based on the top facing card. When s/he is done, reverse the deck and go through it again.
5.Take a final test
When you think the child is ready to be assessed, hand out two blank U.S. maps. Then have the child label the states on one, and the capitals on the other. The ultimate goal is to get 50 out of 50 correct on both.
For classroom teachers, we have developed a States and Capitals Unit that includes:
-a map of the United States labeled with numbers for states and students identify
-a map of the United States labeled with numbers for capitals and students identify
-blank United States map for states
-blank United States map for capitals
-states and Capitals quizzes
You can purchase this amazing resource by clicking here.
Please share other tips and tricks that you have learned to help memorize the states and capitals too! We would love to add more to what we already do!
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